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Teaching Tip: Using Student Evaluations to Improve Your Teaching

This tip provides resources on how to interpret student course evaluations and use student feedback to reflect on and improve your teaching.

Preparing to read the feedback

Sifting through the noise inherent in student perception data is not always easy, especially since we’re somewhat hardwired to focus (and dwell) on negative comments and lower-than-expected numbers. The following questions can help you overcome your initial reaction to your student evaluation data and uncover the trends that point to meaningful course improvements.
• Ask yourself: What is surprising? What did you already know?
• Look for patterns: What are the themes that emerge across different responses?
• Make choices: What constructive suggestions seem appealing to you?
• Don’t get upset by the few offensive comments from disgruntled students–
they happen.

For more information on student evaluations, see these resources from University of Virginia’s Center for Teaching Excellence:
End-of-Semester Course Evaluations
Taking Stock: Evaluations from Students
How I Read My Student Evaluations
The Course Evaluation Follow-Up Form

Interpreting the data

Though student perception data can be meaningful and ultimately useful in improving your instruction and future iterations of the course, care must be taken to determine the significance and validity of the data. Here are some general principles and guidelines to help you get the most out of the numerical data and written comments reported on evaluations.

Making sense of the numbers
Instead of–or in addition to–looking at the mean scores, look at the distribution of responses. This helpful resource from Stanford University illustrates how courses with the same mean scores can have very different patterns of evaluation responses and explains how to interpret different response distributions.

Making sense of the written comments
It can be difficult to assign meaning to student comments, which can sometimes seem random or contradictory. This excellent guide from the University of Virginia offers a simple set of techniques for analyzing written comments.

Reflecting on your teaching

Reviewing course evaluation responses is one method for reflecting on your teaching and courses. We’ve tracked down some additional resources that offer ways to examine your teaching practices. Considering your teaching from more than one perspective can provide a more well-rounded view of instruction.

Questions for Bringing Your Instructional Practices into Focus
Is My Teaching Learner-Centered?
Reflective Teaching

Also be sure to celebrate your successes! Did you have a lesson that went especially well? Did you try a new instructional technology or teaching strategy? Did you have a student who achieved a breakthrough in learning? Did you provide support for a struggling student? Did you make it through an entire class without forgetting to unmute?

Adapted from:
Tracy Bartholomew
University of the Arts